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Calvin Coolidge: Family Life

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When Coolidge moved into the White House, he installed a rocking chair on the front porch, in which he enjoyed sitting in the early evening and smoking his cigars. Alice Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, liked to remark that Coolidge looked as if he had been “weaned on a pickle.” When he smiled, someone once said, it was "like ice breaking up in a New England river." But much of his reputation for silence was deliberately cultivated; in speech, as in so many areas, Coolidge deemed discretion not only the better part of valor but also an instrument of sound leadership.

Despite his sharp wit, Coolidge was not a natural at socializing in small circles. At White House dinners, he said little and often looked bored. One oft-told story about Coolidge's dour behavior concerns an enthusiastic female dinner companion who said to him, "You must talk to me, Mr. Coolidge. I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you." Coolidge replied: "You lose." Yet for all of his reported quietness, Coolidge loved company and never dined alone or seldom spent an evening alone with his wife. He and Grace Coolidge entertained more than any previous family in the White House.

The President's typical day followed a set routine: breakfasting early, working until noon, having lunch followed by a walk and a long nap, some more business, evening social affairs, a little reading before bed, and then to sleep for at least seven or eight hours. For recreation, he enjoyed the presidential yacht, vacationing in the mountains or at home in Plymouth Notch, horseback riding, golf, and long walks. The stationary mechanical horse that President Coolidge had installed in the White House amused his wife and others who observed him riding the machine. In his first year in the White House, Coolidge had the company of Calvin, Jr. but after his death, the White House was childless. The Coolidges' older son, John, was seventeen and a trainee at a citizen's military camp at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, when Coolidge became President. He spent the presidential years as a student at Amherst College.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

David Greenberg

Professor Greenberg is a professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University. His publications include:

Calvin Coolidge (Henry Holt and Company, 2006)

Presidential Doodles (Basic Books, 2006)

Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image (W.W. Norton, 2003)